Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Leave Taking

"Now I agree that everyone should have content, and this is not about the amount of content offered, it's about how Blizzard seems to be aiming at the structural destruction of raiding guilds."
-- Neg of Nihilum.

"About 2 weeks ago it became official. No, Risen is not a dead guild. We are a group of gamers that likes being the best we can be. Well, WoW isn't about that anymore, so we are taking WoW for what it is - casual."
-- Failure of Risen.

"Anyone else seeing a rise in the unguilded? At least on my server, there are more and more level 70s leaving their guilds and not joining new ones.

Is raiding truly about to die?

It can't be because of progression boredom because only one guild has killed Illidan on my server.

What's making guilds fall apart all the sudden?"

-- Iapetos, WoW General Forum.

Our elders are leaving us.

It's ironic. I remember when I first began posting in the Hunter forum, not too long prior to the release of TBC. The elitism there at the time was utterly without mercy. The Marks old school were far less tolerant of the existence of a Survival Hunter among them than the contemporary BM fanatics.

Yet I read the recent material written by some within Nihilum, and I grieve. If ever proof were available that WoW is indeed now dying, surely this is it.

I don't deny that casual content is vital to the success of a game. However, casual content is necessary for outreach; to increase a game's breadth. Earlier games like Ultima Online and Everquest were merciless grinds almost from a character's inception.

In that way, they existed in a state of imbalance, and that is also why they never became mainstream. The learning curve was close to vertical.

World of Warcraft was the very first game of its' kind to really change this. It allowed breadth; it allowed for a much more horizontal learning curve, and so it in turn allowed for a much larger group of people to access it than was possible previously.

When you create a new character in WoW, there's a person with an exclamation mark above their head standing right in front of you. You're immediately given somewhere to go and something to do. It eliminates confusion, and makes the learning of in-game concepts a gradual, stepped, and organically occurring process. It is obvious that any new MMORPG which follows will need to include these elements by default.

However, there comes a time when pure linearity is something which at least some individuals need to evolve beyond. Multiple potential quest lines, multiple available zones or paths of progression, and the challenge inherent in finding which is appropriate, become necessary.

The early five man instances are gradually introduced. New skills become available over time, and as well, more effective and valuable items become available.

At what is closer to the point of mastery, raiding and challenging encounters, on the other hand, are what give a game depth. These elements are what also (to again borrow from Bartle's rationale as to such games' existence) solidify the emerging experimental personality, and allow the vicarious state of actualisation to be reached.

The Ascension phase comes via a process which can be compared with climbing a mountain, and there is a fundamental psychological need for the last few meters to the summit to be bordering on literal impossibility, and to induce a state close to literal agony.

This is the point where, to use the Matrix as an analogy, time is slowed, gravity is defied, and projectiles are reversed. The individual comes over a long period of time to a point where they are able to believe that they have such abilities, and where the level of challenge present means that the use of such abilities becomes necessary.

The level of challenge here is also necessary, because only after that will the individual be able to believe that he or she actually deserves what comes next. As Neo eventually discovers in The Matrix Revolutions, in a virtual environment in particular, the entire journey to the Ascension phase is actually unnecessary, although paradoxically, this can never be discovered until afterwards, which therefore means that it is. An individual always has their own power; thus, the journey is not so much about developing said power as it is about discovering it.

In order for this to occur, however, the developmental catalyst is the overcoming of limitation and difficulty. The process cannot occur without challenge, because without challenge, there is no sense of progression, evolution, or forward movement. There is no scenario that an individual is thrust into, where the use of bullet time is made necessary, nor is there the tiered process by which the individual learns that the use of said abilities are indeed possible.

Not everyone who plays a game is going to go that far with it; indeed, most don't. Most are happy to continue with the casual or semi-casual material until such time as they are ready to pass on to some new activity. However, for a certain number among the population, such actualisation can and does occur, and is to the benefit of all. It benefits the rest of us because we can learn from individuals who have gone through the process, and it benefits said individuals because of the degree to which they have developmentally freed themselves.

All of this may seem utterly ridiculous, given the fact that I am, of course, talking about a computer game. I would argue however, in extreme earnest, that in a world as socially and politically limiting as this one is becoming, any environment where self-actualisation in any form is made possible needs to be preserved and taken seriously.

As Richard Bartle also wrote, I think, self-actualisation in whatever medium it is possible is also the entire point of these types of games; as far as the service they render to human beings is concerned, it's the reason why said games exist. It's also already been proven in research that human neurology is literally unable to tell the difference between visualised/imagined or real imagery. You can say it's just a game as much as you want; but the consequences have as much ontological validity as if they were achieved anywhere else.

The current development staff may think that diluting the amount of challenge present in World of Warcraft entirely will only broaden the appeal of the game. If their only priority is the accumulation of subscription fees, then at least on a short term basis, I can understand the rationale for that choice.

However, the consequences on a longer term basis, I think, will gradually be shown to be disastrous. Although not all players of this game proceed all the way to the Ascension phase, their purpose in playing it, (though they may not always consciously realise such) is likely to attempt to recreate their scenario in some way that is seen to be more positive than what they have offline.

Maybe they don't have a lot of money offline, and so love the idea of being in a scenario where, if they invest some effort, there is more certainty of them being able to get a decent suit of armor, or a big nether drake to sit around Shattrath on.

Maybe they'd secretly love to travel and explore new places, but their real life scenario, for whatever reason, doesn't allow that. WoW in terms of sheer geography is a reasonably large environment, and with the new expansion, is about to get bigger.

Maybe they want to learn how to relate to others more effectively, and also develop leadership ability, but because of offline physical problems, are forced to remain civilian.

The point is, that to a degree that some don't recognise, there is a fundamental human tendency to associate things of worth with the expenditure of effort to obtain them. If World of Warcraft becomes a game where the attainment of everything within it is easy, it will be a game where its' players are no longer able to get their needs met. This is the reason why we are already seeing the members of these raiding guilds leave, or at least become disinterested; WoW is no longer a means for them to meet these developmental needs, and they feel them more acutely and strongly than most.

Sure, WoW's just a game. But then again...
Isn't everything? :)

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